Alex Guzman's first goal set the tone, his second doubled Central's lead, and his third sealed Forsyth Central's fate.
Guzman's hat trick helped the Bulldogs past West Forsyth on Thursday, 4-1, and secured Central's first region championship in boys soccer.
"Truthfully, I'm just happy for the boys," Central head coach Will Gifford said. "This is a great group of young men. They've worked hard, they're high-character guys, they compete with a lot of effort, they compete with a lot of integrity and they deserve to win the championship. There's a bunch of good teams in this region. For this year, nobody was better than us."
Guzman's goal came two minutes into the match and sent Central's players — well aware of the implications of Thursday's match — into a frenzy. Cody Moncrief targeted Guzman running into West's third of the field one-on-one. Guzman played it off a bounce and sent it into the back of the net.
It was Central's second shot on goal, following Ethan Rausch's shot just one minute into the match.
"Our team talked about how we had to go from the start," Guzman said. "We had to go hard and fast to try to get that first goal, because it was important for us to get in front, and that's what we did."
Guzman struck again eight minutes later from about 15 yards out, splitting a pair of West defenders to give Central what felt like complete control.
"Alex is such a dynamic player [at] forward," Gifford said. "He's capable of scoring at any point. He had two chances early and he buried them both, which he's done a lot of this year. It gave us some cushion for when we had to weather West's storm a little bit."
West turned up the pressure in the final 20 minutes of the half but couldn't find the equalizer until after halftime, when Josh Bateman sent a rocket into the bottom-righthand corner of Central's goal from about 30 yards.
The two teams played even for much of the second half, until David Lewandowski scored off a Josh Scharff throw-in with 13 minutes left in the match.
"Honestly, I thought that was the goal that took the wind out of their sails," Gifford said. "Up to that point, we're up 2-0 and then they score, and it's a one-goal game and it's back-and-forth. When we scored that goal, it kind of released the pressure. After that, it kind of felt like it was in hand."
Guzman added his third goal of the match seven minutes from fulltime with a short goal on West's doorstep.
The score also marked Guzman's 20th goal of the year, a single-season record at Central.
"Honestly, I've been doing this a long time and I've been blessed to coach a lot of good players, but I have never coached a more dynamic attacking player than Alex Guzman," Gifford said. "So, it's very fitting that he's scored more goals this year than any player."
Guzman said Central came into the season with a chip on their shoulder because they felt everybody doubted them. The Bulldogs were 7-1 in 2020 before the season was canceled, but graduated about a dozen seniors.
Central doubled down on its defensive effort and put an emphasis on fitness. As a result, the Bulldogs own three shutouts this season and have held their opponent to just one goal on five separate occasions.
Guzman appreciates the individual accolades, but shifted the credit to his teammates.
"It feels good. It's good to have personal records for yourself," Guzman said. "It's really all about the team. I work hard for these boys, because they work hard for me."
Central (11-3, 5-1 Region 6-7A) has a pair of non-region matchups against Sequoyah and Alpharetta remaining on the schedule. After that, the Bulldogs will enter the Class 7A playoffs as the No. 1 seed for the first time in school history.
"They understood the task at hand and they rose to the challenge," Gifford said. "This group of players, from Keegan Williford in goal to Andy Guzman and Hunter Broome at center back, Abraham [Lemus] at one outside back, Andrew Harrington at the other, all the way through the midfield and to Alex up top, those guys have just competed every game. So, when they knew there was a region championship on the line, I knew we were going to come out, because that's who they are."